Belmont Club

The New Total War

It seems difficult to exceed the scope of “total war” as defined by 1940s, when civilian populations were bombarded from the skies, armies of millions grappled over bloody battlefields, and entire cities were obliterated by atomic weapons. But the 21st century is trying.

Imagine a conflict in which each side tries to control the leadership of rival nations; where enemy agents impersonate, or sometimes recruit members of the armed and police forces of your own state; where hostile forces can wipe out the bank accounts of thousands or even millions of individuals.

Think of a world in which there is no sanctuary, where no flight or concealment is possible. A reality in which millions of distributed cameras, augmented by intercepted emails, cell phone video, and imagery make it impossible to lose one self in a crowd. It will be a world without front lines, without a clearly identifiable friend or foe. This, and terrorism too. Conceive of living in such a universe; and realize that perhaps you may be living in it already.

Start with your friendly computer, whose screen is blinking cheerfully in front of you. It may be stealing your banking details.

The New York Times describes Gauss, malware aimed at penetrating banks and stealing the credentials of those who to use them. Why was it made? It was designed, according to the NYT’s sources, by American or Israeli programmers in order to penetrate Lebanese banks and thereby discover who Hezbollah was funding and being funded by. It’s collecting data for subsequent surveillance, hacking, or even inclusion in a Kill List, as described by another New York Times article. “Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.”

Gauss can be thought of as the collection part of a spidering program, a sort of Google that brings up a list of bad guys when you plug in a search, as defined by President Obama and thereafter to be passed on to whatever sharp end is appropriate. Russia’s Kaspersky labs is, of course, on the job unraveling its secrets.

Kaspersky’s researchers said they were confident that Gauss was the work of the same hands as Flame, because the two viruses were written in the same language (known as C++) on the same platform and shared some code and features. Different people probably wrote Doqu and Stuxnet, the first two state-sponsored viruses to surface in recent years, they said, but all four were probably commissioned by the same state-sponsored entity.

“There is absolutely no doubt that Gauss and Flame were printed by the same factories,” Mr. Raiu said. “An early version of Stuxnet used a module from Flame, which shows they are connected. Stuxnet was created by a nation-state — it simply could not have been designed without nation-state support — which means Flame and Gauss were created with nation-state support as well.”

Kaspersky Lab has declined to speculate on which nation-states were responsible. The New York Times reported in June, based on interviews with officials in several countries, that Stuxnet was jointly developed by the United States and Israel.

But one can’t help but think Kaspersky’s efforts are also be directed at creating an equivalent capability for the Kremlin. For Putin must also have his “kill list”. Who is working for “other side” any more when your favorite anti-virus provider is also the Russian government’s? Yet it is important to realize that in the 21st century, being on the “same side” isn’t so clear any more. For example, Israel and America are allies, right? Maybe that is only sometimes. Israel wants the Administration to acknowledge that the Iranian nuclear threat has increased in the light of new evidence.

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE — The White House Thursday declined to respond to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s comment that new US intelligence warns the Iranian nuclear threat has become much more “urgent.”

Barak had suggested that a new US intelligence assessment on Iran had brought the Obama administration’s position much closer to that of the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One that he would not comment on “intelligence matters or intelligence … the president may or may not have received.”

Intelligence that the President may or may not have received, and evaluated by people who may or may not be who they claim to be. The modern ambiguity of identity was highlighted by two incidents. The first was the killing of three Marine special operations personnel by the Afghan police chief of Sangin province, who it turns out was working for the other side, if you can still say that. Closer to home Army Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo was “convicted of collecting bomb-making materials for what he told authorities would be a ‘massive attack’ on a Texas restaurant full of Fort Hood troops” for religious reasons. Solution: more gun-free zones.

Still, this business of fighting without uniforms is disturbing. It breeds an endemic suspicion even among allies. Saudi Arabia recently said it would intercept any Israeli aircraft attempting to cross its airspace en route to striking at Iranian nuclear targets. But some news stories quote Israeli sources as saying the message was really coming from the Administration.

Senior Israeli officials have claimed that the Americans are leveraging the Saudi threat in an attempt to dissuade Israel from launching a unilateral offensive on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Some sources estimate that Saudi Arabia, which is equipped with American-made fighter jets, would have allowed Israel to cross its airspace if the latter would have coordinated its military operation with the White House.

So are the Saudis doing Obama’s bidding or is it Obama doing the Saudi’s bidding? Does it matter? We’re all one happy family. Quite without the public noticing, the iftar has replaced Christmas — excuse me the Holidays — as White House’s most observed event. The Washington Post reports on an a holiday that every red-blooded American knows and celebrates:

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan by hosting an iftar (ifta) dinner Friday night at the White House.

The iftar is the meal that breaks the day of fasting, when Muslim families and communities eat together after sunset.

The meal to be served in the State Dining Room will be the fourth iftar that Obama has hosted. It continues the tradition of hosting iftars that began annually under President Bill Clinton and was continued by President George W. Bush.

Don’t we all know the familiar song?

Little iftar tree;

No one to buy you, give yourself to me.

You’re your weight in precious gold you see.

My little iftar tree.


It’s getting more and more difficult to find out who’s on first; to identify which politicians are sincerely trying to protect the national interest and who are grandstanding. The Hill reported the Republicans and Democrats are locked in political combat over a missile defense shield to protect the East Coast.

A new Republican plan to set up a missile defense site on the East Coast has attracted election-year fireworks, with Democrats accusing the GOP of pushing the idea to undercut President Obama’s national-security credentials.

Democrats say Republicans are playing politics, but GOP members hit back saying the site is necessary to get ahead of the rising threat of Iran’s missile development and to plug a gap in U.S. missile defenses …

“This is a political move,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who intends to introduce an amendment Wednesday to strip the provision from the defense authorization bill. “Every time the election comes around, the Republicans run out a national security agenda.”

It’s all about money and politics right? Is there any room for patriotism any more? Or has that gone the way of the Holidays, to be replaced by iftar? There is probably some partisan agenda behind the wrangle over the sequestration of defense funds which has led to the announcement by Lockheed and Pratt and Whitney that they are about to lay off tens of thousands of workers. But it is also true that Defense is being starved for other more socially worthwhile expenditures.

Perhaps there are no clean hands or unsullied agendas in Washington any more, just a shadow world of half-truths and half-persons, the perfect environment for the new total war of the 21st century. The President himself is the perfect example of a “blank slate”. He’s so blank that his Columbia classmates cannot remember him attending school. Classmate Wayne Allen Root, who liberals call a “con-man” for working as an odds-maker in Las Vegas, has no recollection of Obama at all, nor has ever met any Columbia political science major from their batch who has.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2008 that Fox News called that random group of 400 Columbia classmates and never found one who had ever met Obama …

Interestingly, Obama contributed not one signed word to the Harvard Law Review or any other legal publication. As Matthew Franck has pointed out in National Review Online, “A search of the HeinOnline database of law journals turns up exactly nothing credited to Obama in any law review anywhere at anytime.”

In October 2007, the New York Times ran a piece titled “Obama’s Account of New York Years Often Differs From What Others Say,” which would have won the Pulitzer Prize for understatements if there was one.

The article noted that Obama, when asked, “declined repeated requests to talk about his New York years, release his Columbia transcript or identify even a single fellow student, co-worker, roommate or friend from those years.”

That just means they didn’t get around enough. But if nothing can be discovered about Obama, soon everything — or nearly everything — can be known about you. New York City is prototyping a surveillance system which its builders hope will be replicated in every city throughout America. It will fuse millions of sensors to databases to track everyone in its field of view all the time.

The NYPD is starting to look like a flashy, forensic crime TV show thanks to a new super computer system unveiled Wednesday near Wall St.

The Domain Awareness System designed by the NYPD and Microsoft Corp. uses data from a network of cameras, radiation detectors, license plate readers and crime reports, officials said.

Using the new system, investigators will be able to access information through live video feeds and could potentially see who left a suspicious package behind just moments later, Kelly said.

The system will also allow cops to get a reading on radioactive substances, and determine if it is naturally occurring, some kind of weapon or a harmless isotope used in medical treatments.

“We can track where a car associated with a murder suspect is currently located and where it’s been over the past several days, weeks or months,” Kelly said. “This is a system developed by police officers for police officers.”

The system will also check license plate numbers to a watch list and alert investigators if a match is detected and quickly pull up crime reports, arrests and warrants on a suspect.

The system has some civil liberties advocates warning of Big Brother type surveillance.

Not a chance of abuse with Janet Napolitano on the job. Perhaps in the 21st century version of Total War there will be no armies of millions crossing borders. But that is because the borders, as the were once understood, no longer exist. Perhaps even the guardians of those borders no longer exist in the traditional sense. The conventional warfare of the last century will be replaced by a pervasive conflict at almost the level of a society’s DNA. The globalized, networked world has redefined the battlefield.

Whose side are you on? What side can you be on? And will you survive?


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